On this Thanksgiving Day, as we prepare for a very traditional American feast, I’ll take time to be thankful for the tremendous variety of food now available from other countries and cultures all over the world.
I’m a great fan of the locavore movement; I know from my childhood that nothing tastes as good as food that not only comes straight from a nearby farm, but also has a distinctive local flavor. But there is also something to be said for being able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter.
Even better is the opportunity to enjoy fruits, vegetables, spices, and prepared foods that were unheard of when I was growing up: sushi, satay, tandoori chicken, naan, fajitas, egg rolls, mango lassi, bok choi, passion fruit, kung pao chicken … the list is long of now-common foods that were unavailable to most Americans 50 years ago. I’d never even had a bagel till I went to college with a large crowd from New York City.
What a multicultural feast our table has become!
Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin (Vintage, 2006) (Expanded from the original 1995 version)
I’ve already written about Temple Grandin, the movie, which was the inspiration for getting this book from the library. It’s well worth reading, and the only reason I’m sending back unread the two other books of hers I picked up at the same time is that I realized I must put the brakes on my reading for a while. At the very least I need to substitute books I won’t be tempted to review.
Thinking in Pictures would have convinced me, if Grandin’s own commentary on the DVD had not, that the movie is an accurate, if not perfect, portrayal of her life. It’s fascinating to read about autism from the inside out, as it were, and also interesting to note her opinion that for all the advances we have made in understanding autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as a child in the 1950’s she had a few advantages over today’s children. School classrooms were well-ordered and quiet; the noise and chaos often seen classrooms now would have been impossible for her to handle. Parents, teachers, and other adults worked hard to instill good manners and polite behavior into children; these are difficult but essential skills for autistic children to learn, but they are sadly neglected today. Finally, there were no video games then, which encourage solitary activity; she was forced to interact directly with other children through board games, outdoor play, and other normal, 1950’s-era activities. (More)
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When I was a child restaurant meals were very rare, the stuff of vacation travel and anniversary dinners. My father carried a homemade lunch to work, just as we children carried ours to school. When we did eat out, the food was rather ordinary—though I'll admit I thought a Howard Johnsons hot dog followed by their special peppermint stick ice cream was the highlight of many a vacation.
I wouldn't trade our homemade meals and family dinners for any five-star restaurant, but what I love about eating in the 21st century is the great variety of food now available from cultures and traditions all over the world. From Indian to Korean, Ethiopian to Moroccan, Thai to Lebanese—this is a great time to be eating!
I am thankful for the baby formula that is available today.
I know. Me, the Notorious Despiser of Artificial Baby Feeding, thankful for infant formula. But it’s true. (More)
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Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, New York, 2008)
Fruitless Fall had been my "to read" list since mid-2009 and, thanks to generous family, on our bookshelves since Christmas. I loved Jacobsen's Chocolate Unwrapped, so why it took so long to begin this book is beyond me. Once begun, however, I couldn't stop, and finished it the same day. There are a few compensations for being sick and not having the energy to tackle much of anything else.
That's not to say the book isn't a delight to read, doing for honey and beekeeping what John McPhee's Oranges did for the citrus industry many long years ago. (I wish someone would write an update, as McPhee's book ends when frozen concentrate was king.) The overall theme is the recent precipitous and inexplicable decline of bees and beekeepers, with many side notes (some delightful, some frightening) along the way. (More)
Regular readers of Lift Up Your Hearts! know I'm a fan of Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog, though I blush to admit I haven't (yet) read her book of the same name. I've written quite a few comments there, and a recent letter I sent evolved into a guest post, which you can find here: A List that Sums Things Up Nicely.
To anyone who may have wandered over from the link at FRK, welcome! Things are pretty random here, as this is where I post, for family and friends, whatever happens to be on my mind. That way they don't have to hear me talk about it quite so much. Okay, so it's really just a small portion of what is buzzing around in my brain; fortunately, life imposes time limitations.
In the upper right hand corner you'll find links to what it's all about here, and various disclaimers and disclosures. Thanks for visiting!
Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. by Joel Salatin (Polyface Inc., Swoope, Virginia, 2007)
Until now, I've written more about Joel Salatin than I've read by him: almost a year ago in Strange Bedfellows? Not Really, and three months later in my review of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Wanting to correct that sin of omission, I grabbed the only one of his books available in our local library: Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.
On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system. And it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies. How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength. The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe. The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers. When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol. — Joel Salatin
Salatin wants to opt out of a little more of the system than I do, but I hear his cry. You could call him bitter, but if you consider the miracle that is Polyface Farms, you have to wonder why our government is working so hard to stamp out such elegant, inexpensive, healthy, delicious, and truly "green" (in a conservationist sense) endeavors. (More)
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With all the fuss lately about illness caused by salmonella in eggs from factory farms with highly dubious practices, it was especially delightful to take a trip—farther than the grocery store, but closer than our church—to Lake Meadow Naturals farm. They have a pick-your-own program on Saturday mornings, and we did just that, reaching under the hens to retrieve a dozen warm-from-the-hen eggs, at a price of $3.50.
Unlike many of that designation, these hens really are free-range: they were ranging all over the yard when we arrived, along with several other types of fowl, including guinea hens, which are the pest control service, being voracious eaters of ticks and other nasty bugs.
I really liked the look of the place, and the friendliness, and hope to return many times for wonderful, fresh eggs. I'm a little disappointed that the yolks are not the deep orange color of the eggs Heather gets from her farming friends, and of the eggs we ate at the bed and breakfast in the Ticino part of Switzerland. But there's no doubt these chickens are healthy, free-range, and lovingly cared for, so I'll be happy with that. Maybe when their less-common breeds are laying I'll notice more of a difference.
We also bought two duck eggs, which were good, but not sufficiently discernable from chicken eggs to encourage a wholesale switch, since we paid $1 each for them. Maybe next time we'll try the guinea hen eggs. :)
Living with other people for several weeks is a good way to experience new foods and new food combinations. If those other people happen to live in another country, the opportunities multiply. And if they also subscribe to a local organic farm's weekly vegetable delivery, well...you get to try Swiss chard. Verdict? Not bad, though I think I'll like it better mixed with other things, such as in an omelet or on a pizza. It's related to beets, but I find the taste more like spinach. As it was with Heather and Jon's Community-Supported Agriculture farm in Pittsburgh, the weekly vegetable lottery is fun to play, and Stephan (like Jon) is particularly good at figuring out how to make good use of fennel, fresh tarragon, and eggplant as well as potatoes, lettuce, and zucchini.
I left the new family to their own devices on Saturday morning, when Stephan's mom whisked me away for an adventure. There is a small farm in nearby Riehen which, as I understand it, specializes in biodiversity/heritage breed conservation of berry plants. On this day, they opened their farm to the public for tasting! We could take nothing away, not even by purchase, but were welcome to taste and enjoy all we wanted.
(Somewhere therein is a metaphor for life, I'm certain.) (More)
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The Rest of the Story. The true revolution behind Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution television show was based in Connecticut and played out quietly, behind the scenes, in West Virginia. Oliver still deserves much of the credit—it was his idea and he funded it. We the People deserve less, for preferring a confrontational and hyped-up TV version to the more inspirational true story. (Hat tip to DSTB.) (More)
What could be more American than hot dogs?
I bought a package of hot dogs yesterday. I'm probably a little behind the times—we don't eat hot dogs very often—but since when did they come with warning labels? Not the kind of warning I might expect, e.g. "this product is full of fat and dangerous additives, and is made from parts of the animal you don't want to know about," but the following:
For children under age 6, cut hot dogs lengthwise and crosswise into small bite-sized pieces. Children should always be seated and supervised while eating.
Come again? You must be six years old to eat a hot dog? I remember the day when hot dog-shaped meat sticks were a staple toddler "first finger food" in the baby food section of the grocery store. Not that we ever bought them: they were disgusting. But there they were. Clearly, somebody sued somebody over a hot dog incident, and now we get warning labels.
The chief problem with such inanities is that they lead to a cavalier attitude towards all warning labels. In between "children under six must have their hot dogs cut into tiny pieces" and "remove plastic from pizza before putting into oven," someone's going to miss "poison—do not drink."
Our Memorial Day celebration concluded with a lovely dinner at at a friend's house, to which we brought wine and dessert. This friend is one of those on whom I am not hesitatant to inflict culinary experiments, and this cake was one. I began with a simple vanilla cake base from my Boston Cream Pie recipe (credit my friend LCS). It is a single-layer cake, which I sliced in two horizontally with a serrated bread knife. I heated passionfruit jam a bit to make it thinner, and mixed it well to make it smooth. This I spread generously on the first layer. After adding the second layer, I used a pastry brush to glaze it and the sides with the thinned jam. Then I added the fruit: fresh strawberry halves and whole blueberries, canned apricot halves and peach slices. Using the brush again, I glazed the fruit with the jam.
I must say we were all very happy with it! Apricot or currant jams are more traditional for this sort of dessert, but I think the passion fruit flavor made this cake the success it was.
What I plan to do differently next time (and there will be a next time):
- Use a higher percentage of whole wheat flour in the cake. (This time I used a 50/50 mixture of white whole wheat and all-purpose flours).
- Use less sugar in the cake (the recipe calls for 1 cup, but I think less would work well—the jam makes it sweet enough).
- Possibly make the inner layer of jam thinner.
- Use fresh fruit exclusively if I can't find firmer canned fruit; the apricots and peaches were rather mushy—though that did make cutting the cake easier than firm fruit would have.
Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michale Pollan (Penguin, New York, 2009)
Food Rules is a condensation of what journalist Pollan has learned from his investigation of what's wrong with the American diet and how it can be improved. If this is the only Pollan food book you will read, or if you want to introduce his ideas to a skeptical friend with a short attention span, it rates five stars. Half of the 140 pages are merely pictures, and the other half are short and very easy to read.
I enjoyed reading through it, but am glad I borrowed it instead of buying it, as for my purposes The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food are better. (On the other hand, at $6.60 from Amazon, the book costs no more than one of those fast food meals Pollan wants us to avoid.)
From #1 Eat food (as opposed to edible food-like substances) to #63 Break the rules once in a while, following these succinct suggestions would go a long way towards improving most people's diets. Best of all I like Pollan's relaxed attitude that reminds us that eating well isn't rocket science, nor is it onerous. It's a basic birthright that we have lost and must reclaim for ourselves and our children.
Super Size Me (Sony, 2004, PG-13)
When Morgan Spurlock was growing up, his mother made the family's meals at home; they ate at restaurants only on very rare, special occasions. Once a common scenario, it is no longer true for Fast Food America.
Spurlock, young, healthy, and in fine physical condition, turned himself into a human guinea pig to investigate the health effects of fast food: For 30 days, he ate at McDonalds, and only McDonalds, three meals a day, every day. His progress (regress) was evaluated and monitored by three doctors, who expected to see no more problems from his change of diet than a moderate rise in his triglyceride levels. Instead, nearly every aspect of his physical and mental health disintegrated rapidly; it took him more than a year to recover from his month-long binge.
Super Size Me is a dramatic condemnation of the fast food industry, and even more so of modern America's eating habits. However, it would have been more effective, if less dramatic, had Spurlock have eaten reasonably instead of deliberately (and sickeningly) gorging himself at every meal. He conflates problems of food quality and food quantity, muddying the results.
The movie is somewhat interesting, but I'd rate it worse than PG-13 for sexual content and language. Unlike some reviewers, I don't find the graphic bariatric surgery to be a problem, but I wouldn't watch it while eating.